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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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CHARLIE VENTURA

Bop for the People

Sounds of Yester Year DSOY 821 (Distributed by The Woods)

 

 


1. Lesson 1
2. Whatta Ya Say We Go
3. Lesson 2
4. Body and Soul
5. Lesson 3
6. Lullaby in Rhythm
7. Lesson 4
8. Birdland
9. Lesson 5
10.Boptura
Bonus Tracks
11. Introduction: Yesterdays
12.High on an Open Mike
13. Medley: Embraceable You/Blue Champagne
14. I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles
15. I'm Glad There's You
16. O-Go-Mo
17. How High the Moon
18. I Cover the Waterfront
19. Jam Session (How High the Moon)

 

Charlie Ventura was famous enough to be voted best tenor saxophonist in Downbeat's 1945 Readers' Poll. Yet he seems in danger of neglect nowadays, perhaps because his style of straight-from-the-shoulder swing is no longer in fashion. Yet this album shows what a significant artist he was - particularly for his attempts to deliver "Bop for the people".

Ventura had made his name as a featured soloist in Gene Krupa's orchestra during the early 1940s, and he started forming his own bands in 1946. One of Charlie's most successful periods was in the late 1940s, when he concentrated on leading a small group which tried to make bebop user-friendly.

The first part of this CD illustrates Charlie's mission in action, with what seems to be a broadcast in which he (with help from vocalist Jackie Cain and pianist/singer Roy Kral) tries to explain what bebop is. The trouble with this is that bebop is very hard to define - and listeners to this album may not want to hear the dialogue sections (or "Lessons") more than once. Nonetheless the musical illustrations are well worth hearing, as Ventura's septet was an all-star ensemble, comprising Conte Candoli or Norman Faye on trumpet, trombonist Benny Green, baritone saxist Ben Ventura, bassist Kenny O'Brien and drummer Ed Shaughnessy. Of course there was also Charlie Ventura himself playing various saxophones and Roy Kral on piano, who also served as a vocal duo (and later married couple) with Jackie Cain.

The Cain/Kral duo was expert at singing wordless bebop vocals, which added to the group's 'hipness". For instance, they introduce the tune of Whatta Ya Say We Go before Charlie Ventura comes in with a booting solo. He proves he can be soulful in the opening chorus of Body and Soul before a drum break doubles the tempo for some groovy swing. Lullaby in Rhythm features Jackie Cain's crystal-clear vocals and some scat with Roy. Birdland is not the famous Weather Report tune but a composition by George Shearing which again features scatting from Jackie and Roy, as does Boptura which has some nice solos from band members.

The second half of the CD consists of tracks from rare broadcasts including Charlie Ventura. These are mostly by Ventura's septet but there are also a couple of isolated recordings by all-star groups led respectively by Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. The recordings in this part of the album are sometimes foggy, and the version of I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles is decidedly hazy.

Some jazz fans will be most interested in the tracks with Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Both groups play How High the Moon. The first version includes solos from Buddy DeFranco, Miles Davis, Ventura, Lucky Thompson and Shelly Manne but the recording quality is not of the best and the tune fades out before it finishes. The album ends with a jam session on the same tune, recorded on New Year's Day 1949. It's a star-studded session but the sound is blurred. Charlie Parker takes the first solo, followed by Flip Phillips, Benny Green and Charlie Ventura (holding his own well in this exalted company) but frankly it's a bit of a mess.

Despite its flaws, this is an interesting album, drawn from an unusual mixture of sources, and it is valuable if only as a reminder of Charlie Ventura.

Tony Augarde



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